DOT to move hundreds of Lee County graves to make room for highway expansion

BROADWAY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The NC Department of Transportation is widening a section of NC 42 in Lee County near Broadway but to do so, it will have to excavate 210 graves.

A growing petition wants to stop the plan to move the graves.

ABC11 spoke with the Rev. Donald Thompson of Shallow Well Church where the cemetery sits.

"In our culture, we say rest in peace and the final resting place; that kind of stuff," Thompson said.

But for the families buried at Shallow Well Church, it's not exactly that final.

"As far as the cemetery goes. There are about 200-plus graves to be moved," Thompson said.

Shallow Well Church is a place where history runs deep.

"Shallow Well has been the center of this community for a hundred years or so. The community has been pretty much destroyed by the 421 bypass and now this," Thompson said.

The DOT said the widening project will help ease traffic flow. To make room for the additional three lanes they will move the graves to another plot of the family's choice. Myrtle Poe, 91, is one of those families.

"Those are my folks," Poe explained. "My brother was O.T Sloan."

O.T. Sloan Sr. served for many years on the City of Sanford's Recreation Commission and was an advocate for county recreation areas.

The Sloan family has made significant land donations and numerous public facilities including a park and aquatics center bear the Sloan name.

Poe not only worries about her family's headstones but her home. It's more than a century old.

"It means everything in the world to me, honey. I was born in this house in the bedroom. We had no air condition and one little fan. It's unreal," Poe recalled.

The widening would wipe out Poe's home and the memories along with it.

"It's hard to give this up because I always kept this house up, painted it and all of that," Poe said.

Poe has seen Sanford's growth and progress first hand. Now she's paying the painful price for it.

"I knew the road needed to be widened but I just didn't want them to take my home, but you can't fight the state," Poe said.

The DOT released the following statement to ABC11:

"We completely understand the church's concerns, which is why we've been working with them for about two years to minimize the impact to their cemetery, through tweaks in our design and through other property enhancements, such as:

  • They have 2 parking lots and we will be adding a sidewalk to connect both.
  • This widening will have concrete curb and gutter, and we've added a driveway where the church wanted one to allow for a hearse to better access Cemetery 1, which is on the opposite side of the church building.
  • We follow a process to ensure we relocate the graves in a respectful manner and with the upmost care. That's why we have a licensed funeral director present for the relocation.
  • Existing headstones are relocated; new markers are set for the unknown graves.
  • Families always have their choice within reason of where to relocate their loved ones. Families are always welcome to attend and oversee the relocation process
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